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Gela Vasadze: Georgians are tired of reforms and of paying taxes

liga.net, 22 October '12


Gela Vasadze - Georgian political scientist, Chief Editor of Black Sea Press – speaks about what happened in Georgia and how it may end.


- The victory of Bidzina Ivanishvili – is it a victory for Georgia?

- This is his personal victory, but it can turn into a victory for Georgia. For nine years, it has gone from a country where there was no electricity, roads, where garbage was not cleaned for weeks, to country with advanced public institutions and infrastructure. And most importantly - to the country in which democratic transfer of power is possible. But it may be called achievement and victory of the country only if it is developed - in control of society over the government, in an independent court, and finally - in the next transfer of power democratically.

- Why did Ivanishvili win?

- For lots of reasons. First - this is what I call the paradigm of free lunch. The reforms have created all conditions for investors. But Georgia is a post-Soviet country, in which the request for social justice lies at the genetic level. Ivanishvili brought back the idea that the state should not only create opportunities for their citizens, but also to take care of them. Part of the society perceived it positively.

Second - reform fatigue. It seems that everything is going well - established institutions, crime is over, the budget has grown by 15 times, GDP grows. But reform fatigue exists. It’s excellent that the budget has grown. But for this you need to pay the taxes. The budget also has increased due to the fact that small and medium-sized businesses were frightened by Revenue Service.

In 2010, I was surprised to find out that the Georgians started paying taxes. Liberty Institute conducted a study which showed that, in Shevardnadze’s period the small businesses paid less tax, than in Saakashvili’s tax system, while during Shevardnadze’s times, the tax system was very difficult and complicated and now we have one of the most liberal system in the world.

People got tired, as before, paying taxes was untypical, and suddenly it became necessary. How many people were fired from the Interior Ministry, how many people were working in liquidated passport offices? A lot of people were receiving money from everyday corruption, and they lost their piece of bread. These people are also against Saakashvili.

In addition, another paradigm has worked - a broom. That is, the effect on the election from the footage of torture of prisoners. Although, it later turned out that part of the footage was staged, a layer of problems has been disclosed in the society. And it is not only about prisons. Prison is just a small part. Problem was in the society were rumors and talks were spread, like about Orwell’s Farm, where all animals are equal, but some are even more equal than others.

There were rumors about the system of selective preferences. Although I personally have not encountered any. And this desire of justice was decisive.

Fear of losing all the advantages gained in the period of Saakashvili remained. But do not forget that there was no crushing or landslide victory of Ivanishvili. It was a victory with a small gap. Society is divided. But both parts of society look at Ivanishvili with the hope that he will not destroy all the good that exists, and at the same time, will improve some bad moments.

- This reminds Ukrainian situation. Tiredness from the Orange, public split, hope for a strong hand of Victor Yanukovych ...

- I disagree. People in Ukraine are tired of completely the opposite, than in Georgia. In addition, the society in Ukraine is divided on the reasons far more important than in Georgian society. The vast majority of Georgians - regardless of who they vote for - wish the new government to succeed.

I would compare Viktor Yushchenko, not with Saakashvili as it used to be, but with Zviad Gamsakhurdia. And Yanukovych - not so much with Ivanishvili, but with Shevardnadze. Under Yushchenko, as with Gamsakhurdia, was a period of national mobilization and national identity. Now it is stabilization period. The next period in Ukraine will be an era of liberal reforms. However, when this will happen is hard to say.

- Are there any concerns about the restrictions of civil liberties in Georgia? Ivanishvili made his billions in post soviet countries. Spent money on elections, it must somehow be repaid.

- Risks do exist. But Ivanishvili is not businessman in Georgia. He is more public figure who claims to be between Messiah and the father of the nation. He aims to make a history. On his campaign, he spent USD1.2 billion, which is the price of his operations for nine years. It is worth of stipulation. I do not think that he did it from the first day, based on the calculations on coming to power.

It is necessary to fully understand the nature of Ivanishvili. He came from a mining town from a poor family, and now by his charity he realizes his childhood dream of happiness. Happiness is a theater, the actors around you, zoo.

In Batumi, he renovated the Youth Park, has built a dolphinarium. This is kind of fulfillment of his Georgian dream. Very many in the art and science were paid by Ivanishvili. He, in fact, maintained them. Of course, he is a man, who made money in Russia in 1990s. I think we don’t need to explain how people were making money in those times in Russia.

- Still, if the restriction of freedoms will start, will Georgians resist?

- Civil Society and the civil sector of Georgia was born during Shevardnadze’s period. After the Rose Revolution, part of the civil society went to the government. In fact, the civil sector became the government –very few professional officials were left there.

Another part of the civil society became an opposition. Still, we should not forget one thing: that we are very tied to the West. Not economically. Financial dependence on the West does not exist- in order to see this, just look at the budget of Georgia. But there is a political and economic dependence. The business climate, relations of country investors, international financial institutions depends on out relationship with West . It is due to the desire of integration into Euro-Atlantic structures that elections were held in Georgia. If we did not have it - there would be no elections.

[Viktor] Yanukovych can afford not to look at Europe and especially at the United States. Georgian elite, does not matter who it consists of, can not afford it. Moreover, Ivanishvili has two main coalition parties - the Republicans and the Free Democrats, they are pro-Western political forces. Another thing is that big part of the elite in Georgian Dream are representatives of Shevardnadze’s period. But even if we take Shevardnadze's corrupt elite - even they are pro-Western. That means that we do not need to talk about the regress in pro -western course. On the other hand, Ivanishvili is facing a complex social order - to improve relations with Russia, without refusing Western course.

As for the threat of internal revenge, part of the appointed people in the government have worked as ministers under Shevardnadze. Of course, this is a matter of concern. The more we have such appointments, the more society gets angry. But it's good. This means that the community from the very beginning will control the power. Saakashvili had a huge credit of the public trust. And government was using this credit of trust, while implementing reforms. Ivanishvili does not have this much trust. On the contrary, people have high expectations and sufficiently low credibility towards Ivanishvili. These authorities will receive a little forgiveness.

- Appointment of a football player Kakha Kaladze as minister - what is this?

- I can explain anything, except for appointment of a talented defender at FC "Dynamo Kyiv". I can only associate it with personal sympathy of Ivanishvili. Ministry of Energy has the most money. Perhaps Ivanishvili expects since Kakha Kaladze has a lot of his own money, he will be less tempted to steal something.

- How the victory in parliamentary elections could influence the presidential prospects for Ivanishvili?

- Presidential elections do not decide anything. After November 2013 presidential power will equal to power of the Queen of England.

- In Ukraine, there was a parliamentary-presidential republic too, until Yanukovych by the Constitutional Court decided to surprise everybody. Will Ivanishvili be able to roll back political reform?

- It will be difficult. According to the constitution, which comes into force from 2013, in order to adopt the main law of the country no less than 2/3 has to vote for amendments in two successive sessions, with at least a three-month intervals. It's a long way to go. Ivanishvili can go for a direct violation of the constitution. But I do not think he has a reason to do so.

Differences between the Ukrainian situation and ours, is bigger than it seems. Yanukovych had more opportunities. Ivanishvili said that after two years he will leave the post. I believe it. I think he prefers the role of arbitrator.

- Many outside of Georgia consider Ivanishvili as almost a Russian agent. What links does he have with Russia?

- I do not know. Of course, there are many links. He probably depends on some people in Russia, so do they. But it is incorrect to say that he was a Russian agent. There is no proof. Future Minister of Foreign Affairs - Maya Panjikidze, is a former ambassador to Germany. Future Minister of Defense - Alasania, is absolutely pro-American, who was educated in the United States, and has good relations with the American elite. How can this cabinet have pro-Russian policy?

Yes, Ivanishvili can take some steps in the economy, not to raise issues of the occupied territories.... But ivanishvili will not be able to abandon NATO and European integration. In foreign policy, he will rather maneuver, between Brussels and Washington. Moscow is not visible there yet. Although he said that Georgia's accession to NATO would not be contrary to the national interests of Russia. I still have a little idea how it is possible.

- He does not have business in Russia any more...

- He sold it, but not completely. Transaction will be closed at the end of the year. I do not think that he will win back those transactions.

- What kind of relationship will Ivanishvili build with Moscow?

- I think that the most probable model is that Ivanishvili. through his connections in Russia. is quite capable to achieve progress in the economic and cultural relations. But it is absolutely impossible to achieve any progress in the political arena. Tbilisi stopped diplomatic relations with Moscow, after the 2008 war and Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This means that the diplomatic relations can be restored only if Georgia recognizes independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, or if the Kremlin revokes the recognition, which is also unrealistic.

The problems of Abkhazia and South Ossetia are linked to the North Caucasus issues of Russia itself. So even if Ivanishvili, in contrary to the opinion of the Georgian society, refuses the European integration and accession to NATO and becomes closer to Moscow, what would be the answer of Moscow? Will it push Sukhumi and Tskhinvali on rapprochement with Georgia? No. All that Moscow could offer Georgia, has already been disclosed with Saakashvili. Now Moscow has nothing to offer.

On the other hand, Georgia is open for Russia - the companies operate, investment continues, the Russians will be this year on the first place among tourists. Georgia has done everything that was possible for Russia The rhetoric may change. But in real politics relations between Russia and Georgia have reached a deadlock.

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